CLEVELAND — The Indians believed they’d have a better lineup this season.
They didn’t know they’d be taking part in home run derbies.
At least they didn’t say so.
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Monday night, Cleveland hit four solo home runs to back up Ubaldo Jimenez’s second strong start in beating the Oakland A’s 7-3. The Indians now have 44 for the season, which leads the American League and is tied for first in all of baseball.
The most prodigious blast came from Mark Reynolds, who continued his impressive start with a homer in the fifth that landed three rows from the top of the bleachers. It had the dugout going, and those out of the dugout going more.
“I almost fell out of my chair,” said second baseman Jason Kipnis, who hit the first of the four home runs but was back under the stands watching video when Reynolds hit his.
“I’ve never seen people put them up there, even in BP,” Kipnis said. “That was one of the more impressive ones I’ve seen.”
“It’s unbelievable,” said Asdrubal Cabrera, who had two home runs himself. “He hit the ball so hard … I don’t know how he did that.”
“He crushed it,” said Jason Giambi.
Reynolds wanted to crush it. After Kipnis and Cabrera started the first with home runs, Jarrod Parker came up and in at Reynolds on a 2-0 count. The ball hit him in the shoulder, and though Reynolds said he thought it was just a pitch that got away, he wanted retribution in the fifth.
“I was on a mission right there to hit the ball as far as I could,” he said.
He came close. Parker gave him a hanging changeup, and the ball went 460 feet — and came within three or four rows of hitting the scoreboard. The only player to hit the scoreboard at Progressive Field is Mark McGwire, and that went 485 feet. Reynolds homer was 17 feet short of the sixth longest, with Jim Thome’s 511-footer ranking first.
It gave Reynolds his 10th home run of the season, tops in the AL. He said he has no history with Parker and did not believe Parker intentionally threw at his head, but he was upset enough about being hit to call it “payback.” And to do something he rarely does — stop at the plate for a second to acknowledge it.
“Because he hit me,” Reynolds said. “I normally don’t pimp anything. But he hit me .. gave him some grief. Had some fun. Whatever.”
Reynolds is hardly the kind of guy to celebrate his hits. He said he never looked at the ball once he started running.
“They all count the same,” he said. “First row, back row.”
And he said he’s never had that kind of success when he went to the plate with a “mission.”
“Never, ever,” he said. “The harder you try, you never hit a home run. I was kind of surprised I did it actually.”
The same surprise could apply to statophiles who look at the Indians’ home run numbers. A year ago the Indians hit 136 home runs, which ranked 25th in baseball. They’ve hit one-third as many after playing only 18 percent of the season.
“It’s not just one through five,” Kipnis said. “It’s one through nine.”
Kipnis started the game hitting a high fastball into the left-field bleachers. Cabrera followed with one to the roof in front of the Indians bullpen, then sent one in the fifth to the roof of the A’s bullpen. Reynolds followed.
“I don’t even think we’re living and dying by the longball right now,” Kipnis said. “There’s other runs we’re driving in and guys just happen to be putting good swings on balls and they’re carrying out.”
Reynolds has 10, but 10 players have between two and six, with six having between three and six.
Leading the league in home runs is a significant stat, no matter the point of a season. It means a team is hitting well. Will it continue?
“I hope so,” manager Terry Francona said. “That’s not a bad category to lead.”